by MICHAEL BOWEN & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & "T & lt;/span & he last time I was in Spokane, I was in the national tour of Hair," says Ellen Crawford, her laughter revealing the joy she has taken from years of stage and screen acting.

In fact, some of her very first TV credits, back in 1983, include appearances on shows like Newhart and Three's Company. More years of TV work led to a small, recurring role for 10 seasons on ER playing Nurse Lydia Wright -- who just happens, over the course of a dozen episodes, to meet a cop who makes a habit of dropping by County General and then proposing to Nurse Lydia -- a cop played by none other than Crawford's real-life husband, Mike Genovese.

"We'd had every possible relationship before," says Crawford -- teacher and student at another school in Illinois; veteran and neophyte actor; cast mates; "better and better friends" -- "until all that was left was that we could get married."

Along the way, they would encounter Craig Volk, who would eventually write episodes of The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd, Diagnosis: Murder and Northern Exposure. He would also write a play about the tension that develops when a woman named Fitz wants to live life more fully and make some changes just after her husband Sparky retires and makes it clear that all he wants to do is putter around the house. Fitz, meanwhile, develops an eye for the local UPS man (Chris LeBlanc).

Volk -- who now teaches scriptwriting and screenwriting at the University of Colorado at Denver -- managed to get his play produced 20 years ago at a theater in New Jersey with real-life husband and wife Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson.

But Volk had written Sparky & amp; the Fitz for Genovese and Crawford.

"Now that we have grown into the roles," as Crawford says, the couple "sent out feelers" to theaters in California and Maine where they work -- but the playwright's friendship with Interplayers board president Jim McCurdy is what brought this new production to Spokane.

Clearly this will be a comedy with an edge: It's based on Crawford and Genovese's "verbal sparring patterns" as real-life wife and husband.

"Craig has experienced being around us," says Genovese. "Some of the dialogue banter -- its rhythms, and sort of the way we attack one another -- are pretty much lifted from us. Sort of the general substance. People sometimes get a little uncomfortable listening to us go back and forth.

"I'm the one that will push it," he continues. "And [Ellen] will say, 'That's no longer funny.'

"But she can give as good as she gets," he chides, and they smile at one another.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & S & lt;/span & pokane audiences will see a revised version of Sparky & amp; the Fitz: Director Ann Whiteman asked for -- and got -- substantial revisions. The time of year in the play, for example, has been changed from Halloween to Valentine's Day, obviously emphasizing its romantic aspects. Cultural allusions have been updated; there are more references to Fitz's health-consciousness; numerous line changes were made at the request of the director and both lead actors.

For his part, Genovese is dealing with some of the same ageing issues that his character Sparky does. "When I first came to L.A.," Genovese says, "I was playing a lot of cops and bad guys, the heavies." (His resume includes episodic work on shows ranging from Knight Rider to NYPD Blue.)

Like Sparky, Genovese is starting to deal with "slowing down, aches and pains, some of the physical things. Sparky just wants to putter around the house in retirement, dealing with infirmities like that, and Genovese can relate to that. "If I'm not working," he says, "I don't have hobbies. I read, I watch late-night TV, go to the gym once in a while."

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & C & lt;/span & rawford and Genovese, whose conversation is dotted with obvious affection for one another, accent their theater-talk with references to having worked dinner theater with Larry Shue (author of The Nerd and The Foreigner) and with having seen Harold Pinter himself in Old Times before acting in it themselves. They're a couple of old pros who've been around the business and are obviously delighted to get a crack at a script written for them when they were really too young for the parts.

Whiteman -- a talented director and actor herself, so she should know -- says that Genovese and Crawford "are beautifully matched onstage. There's never any indecision about where to look. They're equally magnetic."

Sparky & amp; the Fitz will tell their comedic love-triangle story at Spokane Interplayers Ensemble, 174 S. Howard St., through May 26, with performances on Wednesdays-Thursdays at 7:30 pm and on Fridays-Saturdays at 8 pm. Matinees at 2 pm on May 13, May 19-20 and May 26. Tickets: $10-$21. Visit or call 455-PLAY.

Coffee with SPS @ Lewis and Clark High School

Tue., Jan. 31, 8-10 a.m.
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About The Author

Michael Bowen

Michael Bowen is a former senior writer for The Inlander and a respected local theater critic. He also covers literature, jazz and classical music, and art, among other things.